By DAVE LINK
Parker Batts and Brody Jones of the Jefferson County Patriot Anglers were having a tough day of fishing – along with everybody else – during the Sept. 10 Tennessee Bass Nation’s State Open on Watts Bar Lake.
Luckily, they hooked into a big meanmouth bass.
A meanmouth bass.
Yes, a meanmouth bass.
“I’ve caught a few before that one,” Jones said. “They definitely have more fight than a smallmouth or a largemouth. They are definitely special to catch.”
It’s a relatively rare hybrid species that occurs when a spotted or largemouth bass mates with a smallmouth bass.
And the meanmouth Jones caught weighed 3.66 pounds and lifted he and Batts to a third-place tie finish in the State Open Tour’s first stop.
“It was awesome,” Jones said of finishing third. “I totally wasn’t expecting something like that.”
Not with the tough bite.
Results of the event indicated just how difficult it was to catch keeper bass.
Of the 219 boats in the high school division, only three caught the five-bass limit. One boat came in with four bass.
There were 125 boats that didn’t catch a keeper. The rest of the boats caught one or two keepers.
Jones and Batts had three keepers for a total weight of 7.43 pounds.
“It was pretty tough,” Jones said. “I think the rain made the bite not as good.”
B.J. Collins and Buddy Benson of Sale Creek won the State Open with five bass weighing 8.71 pounds.
James Sumrell and Brody Harp of Hixson High in Chattanooga were second with five bass weighing 7.87 pounds.
Chase McCarter and Ty Trentham of Sevier County tied with Jones and Batts for third with three bass weighing 7.43 pounds. Their big bass weighed 2.82 pounds.
Batts said slow fishing days like that are a test for a fisherman.
“It’s tough,” he said. “It’s like that a lot of times, but you’ve just got to keep your head down and keep grinding. You know eventually it’s going to end, so you’ve just got to keep going with it and do your best.”
In the State Open’s middle-school (youth) division, Gunner Lunsford and Tucker Allen of Meigs County Junior Bass won with two bass weighing 4.13 pounds.
Hudson Clark and Jackson Leath of Mt. Juliet Junior Bass were second with two bass weighing 4.12 pounds, while Steele Lee and Trux Denny of Loudon Junior Bass were third with one bass weighing 4.01 pounds.
Only 19 of the 60 boats in the youth division caught a keeper bass.
To be a keeper, a smallmouth or meanmouth had to measure 18 inches, while a largemouth had to be 15 inches and a spotted bass 12 inches.
BEST OF A TOUGH DAY
Batts and Jones are sophomores at Jefferson County High but have been fishing together for years.
They’re plenty familiar with Watts Bar Lake. They’ve fished there often and had a practice run on it a couple of weekends before the State Open.
“We caught a few more in practice than we did in the tournament,” Jones said, “but it wasn’t raining in practice, but we also caught some bigger ones when the sun was out.”
With Batts’ father Phillips serving as boat captain, Parker and Jones took off on the rainy Saturday out of Kingston, and their plans soon changed.
“Our spots we found in practice is where we started out at, and those didn’t work,” Batts said, “so we decided to fall back on a spot that we knew, and that’s where we ended up getting our keepers out of.”
A change in weather helped.
“It was rainy the majority of the day,” Batts said, “just rainy and all-around ugly, and it finally started clearing up, and that’s when our better fish finally started biting, in the last two or three hours when the rain started softening up.”
Jones caught the meanmouth on a buzz bait.
They were fishing about 20 yards off the bank at the time, in about 10 feet of water, when the meanmouth bit.
“It hit right next to the boat,” Jones said.
“The bigger fish seemed to like the moving baits pretty good,” he added, “the bigger ones we caught in practice and that one in the tournament.”
Aside from the meanmouth, their other two keepers were largemouths.
Batts said the fall season along with the weather that day contributed to the slow bite.
“If I had to guess, it was probably so tough from where the fall transitioning is starting to happen,” Batts said, “and the water is starting to turn over, and it’s just an all-around tough time of the year.”
LOOKING BACK, AHEAD
Phillip Batts is the head coach of the Jefferson County Patriot Anglers, which started about four years ago, but he’s got help from several other parents. They’ve got 12 teams this year.
Phillip Batts and Joel Jones, Brody’s dad, serve as Parker and Brody’s boat captains.
Parker and Brody met when they were youngsters in Dandridge, playing coach-pitch baseball and fishing together, first for fun and soon after competitively.
“They started (fishing) together in the third grade,” Phillip Batts said. “We’ve built off of them.”
They’ve had some big moments, too.
“Here in the last couple of years, it’s worked pretty good,” Parker Batts said. “We’ve had some pretty good finishes. We’ve had our ups and downs in tournaments just like everybody else, but overall I’d say it’s been pretty good.”
They plan to continue fishing together through high school. Both want to fish in college, perhaps together.
Their next tournament is a Tennessee Bass Nation Southeast Division event Sept. 24 on Nickajack Lake, west of Chattanooga, at Marion County Park.
“I’m really excited,” Jones said of their future. “We’ve just got to keep it up, keep the points good.”